American Idol – Season 8 Preview

How long can a TV show truly be an entertainment juggernaut? 

How many times does a hot series grab the public’s imagination and burn out after barely two seasons. Desperate Housewives destroyed the competition in its first few seasons. Now we get articles about what needs to be done to save the women of Wisteria Lane. As American Idol gears up for its 8th season, the producers and Fox are tinkering with the formula. The ratings have never recovered from the glory days of Sanjaya’s improbably run. Last season producer Simon Fuller believed that talent not trainwrecks would win back the viewers. He stacked the deck with contestants that had already been signed to music deals. Carly Smithson’s debut album ran up a budget of $2 million for MCA records in 2001. She’s be taking less of a deal if she’d won American Idol. Think BMG spent $2 million on Taylor Hicks?

Even with professional voices, the series didn’t return to ratings glory. It still dominated in the weekly rankings, but other shows were nipping at its heels. That’s not good for a show that charges $700,000 for a 30 second commercial. They can’t afford to let the ratings slide too much. The producers decided to retool this season in order to get people excited about the new crop of singing stars that will soon be battling the Jonas Brothers for a tween girl’s allowance money. This won’t be your big sister’s Idol.

The first change will be a fourth judge to mix up the chemistry between Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Songwriter/producer Kara DioGuardi will be sipping from a big red cup this season. The joke is that they got her to add youth to the panel. But she’s pushing 40. That’s old in the world of pop music. Where’s the 25 year old punk with his pulse on the what the kids want? Kara has been tight with the American Idol machine by working with David Archuleta, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Paula Abdul. Hard to see her shaking things up since it’s obvious she doesn’t want to get kicked off the gravy train. She’ll probably come off as a more stable version of Paula. Would have been more fun if they’d hired Suge Knight or Scott Storch.

The audition rounds won’t be cut for laughter and ridicule. The producers have taken to heart all the complaints about the focus given to the really untalented singers. Don’t expect to find the next William Hung in this batch. There are several reasons for this attitude change. Recently one of the psychotic talentless freaks committed suicide near Paula Abdul’s house. Paula wasn’t happy about this incident. Because of how the show works, all the folks that go to Hollywood are under management contracts with American Idol‘s parent company. They get a piece of a hopeful’s soul for that golden ticket. The tone-deaf rejected voices are free to make cash after they leave the audition room without sharing a dime with the Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell. Rumor has it that the producers were furious at Entertainment Tonight when they devoted so much time to helping a rejected overweight contestant. She got more attention than the real winners. E.T. gave her a miracle makeover that took weeks. The ultimate loser is morning talkshow hosts. How are they going to fill time without the montages of the talentless freaks and repeatedly asking, “Do they really think they can sing?”

Instead of the usual 24 semifinalists, we’ll be having 36 kids singing their hearts out in the first home viewer elimination round. Each week a group of 12 will perform. The top boy and girl will advance to the finals along with the next highest vote getter. After the three groups of 12 audition, there will be a Wildcard special with the judges picking three best remaining contestants. This Wildcard action saved Clay Aiken’s bacon all those years ago. The first “real” episode with the 12 finalists is scheduled to air on March 10. 

In recent years, we haven’t been given much behind the scenes action. The series has focused on the choosing of material with a superstar mentor followed by the performance. Word is that we’ll get to see how these kids live outside of the soundstage like they reveal on America’s Next Top Model and Top Chef. They want to create narratives for these contestants so they become our new TV friends. Do they have a hot tub at the American Idol mansion? Will Simon Fuller provide a liquor bar like at the Surreal Life house?  Not like these kids will resemble the fighting sluts on A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.

The charity event of the series has been dumped. The producers declared that Idol Gives Back won’t occur because of the recession. In these dire times, the last thing we need is a charity that’s supposed to help the poor. What lousy excuse. Did Jerry Lewis tell his kids that he was shutting down the telethon because of the economy? The giving must go on. How about they donate Simon Cowell’s weekly salary to a food bank? It’s not like he needs that much cash to keep himself in black t-shirts. There is something crass about this move.

These changes for the eighth season of American Idol won’t restore the show to its former glory. What matters is finding exciting performers even if they’re bad. Fans of the show remember William Hung and Sanjaya. Does anyone admit to voting for Taylor Hicks? Showing more behind the scenes footage will allow us to get a sense of who really hates the audience favorite. We need a little rival action. Bring on the pro wrestling attitude instead of everyone being the bestest friends in the world. How can a show with so much singing not have Diva moments?